(For my birthday I want ALL the website hits so here’s a bonus excerpt from Save the Date!, one of the new projects I’m working on right now. Tell your friends! -Erik)
We’ll leave Nate for the moment, unconscious on the kitchen floor in the Hotel California and flashback to his initial entrance into this tale of intrigue, hijinks, state-sanctioned proclamations of love and prescription-footwear-clad fork-stabbers. It all started with a phone call or, more precisely, seventeen phone calls.
Our hero was asleep in the finished bedroom of his mother’s basement where he had lived “temporarily” for nearly three years since failing to engage in his college studies when the sixteenth call came and went unnoticed. It was past one o’clock in the afternoon and Nate’s roaring jackhammer snores filled the Pasadena house, disturbing and causing great concern to Frisky, the family’s venerable curmudgeonly Persian cat. Minutes before our hero’s waking to enter our story, Frisky made his way to Nate’s right shoe where he left a carefully placed coil of shit inside. Not content with his fecal revenge, Frisky traversed Nate’s splayed body and sat directly on his face.
Nate woke, unable to breathe, with a mouthful of cat. He sat bolt upright in the futon, shaking Frisky loose. He coughed and gasped for breath. Frisky skittered away into an obstacle course of Nate’s discarded dirty clothes. Nate spat used cat litter from his lips.
“Cat!” Nate shouted and Frisky purred. “Come here, kitty, kitty,” Nate cooed to the Persian. Frisky peed on a garish orange and purple Hawaiian shirt. “Cat!” Nate shouted again and shook his fist.
That’s when the seventeenth call came and Nate heard his favorite instrumental piece from Executive Order Omega coming from somewhere buried in the bed. He hesitated to answer the phone, keeping his eyes on his feline nemesis as Frisky dug his claws into the Hawaiian shirt. He was smiling, Nate was sure of it though he didn’t know what a cat smile looked like. “This isn’t over,” he told Frisky and fished through his bedding for the phone. He finally found it stuffed under his pillow where he’d been somnabulantly ignoring calls for over three hours. The caller ID showed it was his brother calling.
“Jazzy Jason,” Nate answered. “What’s the rumpus?”
“Jesus fucked up Christ, Nate,” Jason replied with exasperation. “I’ve been calling you all day.”
“That sounds like a Jason problem more than a Nate problem,” Nate told him.
Jason audibly sighed. “Look, I need to talk to you and I want to make sure you’re paying attention.”
Nate slid into his computer chair and put on his headset. He launched Executive Order Omega. “I’ve got a full day here, JJ. Not sure I can fit you in.”
“I’ll buy you lunch,” Jason offered.
“Joke’s on you, bro. I haven’t even eaten breakfast yet. I’m not even wearing pants.” He looked down at his legs. He had guessed correctly.
Jason sighed again. “Breakfast then. I’ll buy you breakfast.”
Nate’s mouse hovered over the icon to log into the EOO server. He hesitated. “Anywhere I want? None of your bullshit Jason vetoes?”
“Yes, anywhere you want.”
“And you’re definitely buying? Drink too? You’re not gonna cheap out on the drink?”
Jason cursed away from the phone. Nate could make out at least three four-letter words and a bunch of other words that weren’t as interesting. “Drinks, appetizers, dessert, whatever you want, Nate,” Jason told him. “Just pick a place. Can we make it fast?”
“You can’t rush digestion, Jason,” Nate chided him. “The tummy is a delicate ecosystem.”
“Where, Nate?” Jason asked impatiently.
Nate tried to think of the most expensively obnoxious restaurant he could think of, something French or possibly one of those places where they make steak-flavored foam. Then he decided he wanted a burrito. “Burrito Betty’s,” he said.
“Burrito… wow. Okay. Meet there in 10 minutes?”
Nate snapped his fingers. “I can make that happen, JJ.”
Nate hung up the phone and hopped to his feet. He dug out of a pair of pants from the floor and gave it a quick sniff. Cat-pee free. “This round’s mine, Frisky,” he said and stepped into his shoes. He knew precisely what was happening when he felt Frisky’s sticky present.
“Balls,” he cursed and scanned for the four legged fur bastard. Frisky was nowhere to found. “Cat!” Nate bellowed and shook his fist to the heavens.
A shoe and sock change and a brisk walk later, Nate entered Burrito Betty’s and sat down at the table with his brother.
“It’s all about the lengua and eggs burrito, big brother,” our protagonist explained to Jason Singer. Jason Singer, a future business leader of America was taller and broader than his younger sibling. His hair was stylish but masculine, a respectable and enviable variation on blond. He had a strong handshake and was generally described as a straight shooter. He played golf sincerely and enjoyed skiing in Utah during the winter. From a distance, a discerning person could spot Jason Singer and immediately know that he was a go-getter, the kind of young responsible American that brought a tear to the eye of veterans of foreign wars, the kind of man fathers judged their daughter’s boyfriends against. If Nate had been a more sympathetic or even just a more observant brother he would have seen the exhaustion and stress in Jason’s weary eyes but all Nate saw was blah blah blah I’m Jason and I do responsible things like keep my clothes in drawers, pay rent and hate all that is happy and joyful.
“Are you wearing Mom’s shoes?” Jason asked Nate, looking down at the familiar deck shoes.
“No,” Nate lied. “Did you order already?”
“Are your feet really that small?”
Nate ignored the question. “You said drinks were included, right?”
“Get whatever you want, Nate.” Jason gave his brother a twenty dollar bill. It was a crisp bill straight from the ATM, folding neatly into his wallet.
“Wizard!” Nate said, happily. “I’ll be right back.”
Our hero was not unfamiliar with Burrito Betty and her burrito-y charms. Nate had, in fact, eaten more Burrito Betty burritos than anyone else ever. They had his picture up by the registers giving two thumbs up with a mouthful of burrito. Conversely, Jason Singer, the exhausted groom and desperate brother, had only been to Burrito Betty’s three times. They were all with Nate. He found that the food was too adventurous for his digestion and avoided eating it.
After high-fiving Nando, the pimply faced teen at the cash register, and placing his order, Nate returned with a big cup full of root beer and orange soda.
“Sup?” Nate asked his brother and crossed his legs, waiting intently.
“Do you know what last night was?”
Jason stared at Nate for a moment and blinked his eyes slowly. “It was Thursday actually but that’s not what I was asking.”
“Huh,” Nate said and took a sip from his drink. “So, today’s Friday? Sweet.”
“Nate,” Jason said softly. “Focus.”
“Of course I know what last night was.” Nate said with a chuckled.
Jason was skeptical. “You do?”
“EOO quarterly update. I was online at midnight waiting for it. There are some pretty big bugs in the Sarajevo map. It’s ridiculous they let things like that get past the beta testers.” He leaned forward seriously. “I reported that shit, JJ but they didn’t listen.”
Jason gave a nod that turned into one of Jason Singer’s patented disappointment head shakes. “It was my bachelor party, Nate.”
“Oh,” Nate said. He sort of remembered something about a bachelor party. “Did I get invited to that?”
“Yes. Four times. I texted you. And emailed. And called.”
Nate took another drink. “It’s been a busy week and I, uh, I’m sorry, man.” For the first time Nate noticed that Jason was his usual self. “You know I’m not really good with your friends. Conrad always calls me Gnat, like a bug, Jason. He calls me a bug. It’s hurtful.”
“That doesn’t matter, Nate. Listen to me.”
“Nate!” Nando called out from the cash register.
Nate jumped to his feet. “Hold that thought, Jason.”
Nate ran to get his burrito and put a splash more orange into his root before returning.
“Alright,” Nate said. “Undivided attention.” He unwrapped the foil around his burrito and took a bite. “Lengua, Jason.” He showed the burrito to his brother. “Lengua.” He wagged his tongue and moved the burrito around for emphasis.
“Can you put the burrito down for a second please?” Jason asked.
“It’s fucking amazing, Jason,” Nate told him. “I’m telling you, I used think I was purely a chorizo man but Betty has made me see the light.”
“Nathan.” Jason said firmly.
“Burrito in down position.” Nate put the burrito down on the table.
“Conrad got sick last night.”
“Well, that’s what happens when you’re shooting drinks with your bro men,” Nate offered. “Was it jager? I bet Conrad does a lot of jager shots. That fucking guy.”
“It wasn’t jager. He got food poisoning.”
“Oh.” Nate said and gave into the irresistible pull of his burrito and went in for another bite.
“All of the guys got food poisoning actually.”
“Wait,” Nate said. He put the burrito down and stared at Jason, seeming for an instant to have understood what Jason was telling him. He hadn’t. “Who has a bachelor party on Thursday? That’s not a good party day. That’s your first problem right there.”
“Well, it could have been Tuesday I suppose,” Jason said flippantly.
“No, Jason,” Nate told him. “You’re not listening. You want to do that on a weekend, man. Even I know that.”
“Wow,” Jason said. “Look, Nate, the grooms party, they’re all sick. Phil and Gary are in the hospital right now. I don’t even know how Conrad isn’t dying at the moment. He’s living in the bathroom.”
“Hey,” Nate said. “I’m eating lengua here. Come on.”
“The bridal party too. Chrissy. She’s got a fever and I’m actually late to get back and take her to the doctor.” He looked down at this watch.
“What were you doing spending your bachelor party hanging out with the bachelorette and her lady girls? I thought bachelor parties were all about body shots and homoerotic moments with Conrad. Mistake-o numero two-o, JJ.”
“We had a dinner before. That doesn’t really matter.”
“Huh.” Burrito bite. “Lame.”
Jason sighed. “You’re not following me at all here, are you? You’re not beginning to sense where this is going?”
Nate stared blankly at his brother. “Nope. Wait.” Nate took another bite from his burrito. He chewed it deliberately, thoughtfully even. “Hey,” he said finally. “How come you’re not sick if everyone is sick? Are you going to throw up on my burrito?” Nate carefully covered his burrito in foil.
“No,” I’m going to… Crab mousse,” Jason said simply but it was enough. The same camping trip that left our protagonist a 9-toed freak, also led to Jason Singer’s first discovery of his shell fish allergy. After eating crabs the family caught during a planned excursion, Jason’s face exploded to three times its normal size and changed color and texture to something approximating a lava peach. Jason’s tongue hung out his pudgy swollen cheeks and Nate mercilessly called him Fat Ugly Lava Peach Face. He did it for hours until Jason’s temperate demeanor broke. It was Jason’s screaming and punching his younger brother that distracted their father and led to Nate’s dismemberment. Fitting karma perhaps.
“Sucks,” Nate commented and shrugged.
“You remember I’m getting married.”
“Of course I remember. Saturday night. I’m borrowing a tie from Dad. Should I have a date?”
“Tomorrow night,” Jason specified.
“Yeah, Jason. I was kidding about thinking it was Tuesday last night. Come on. I have the internet. Google calendar. I’m going to be there. What is it with you and Mom and Dad? You don’t think I can even remember to show up to my brother’s wedding wearing clothes and on time even?”
“Nate,” Jason said.
“Jason,” Nate said.
“I need a best man.”
Nate was not expecting that. “What?”
“I need you to be my best man,” Jason told him.
“Are you messing with me?”
“Conrad, Phil, Gary – they probably won’t even make it.”
“Why don’t you just delay the thing until your bro guys are all recovered and stuff?”
“Chrissy has been planning this for over two years, Nate,” Jason told him. “We had to book the venue twenty months in advance. There are three hundred people flying in from all over the world. Trust me, I suggested it but Chrissy, she wants to make this work.”
Nate ate his burrito and drank his orange root beer silently for a moment or two. If he had a response to what his brother had said, it didn’t show.
Jason reached out and took the burrito from Nate. He took a bite. “This is a fucking amazing burrito, little brother. Best thing ever.”
“Lengua is tongue,” Nate said.
Jason put the burrito back down in front of Nate and took a sip from the orange root beer. Jason gagged. He coughed up cow tongue and orange root beer awful into a napkin. “What’s wrong with you?”
Nate shrugged. “I’m told there are multiple things.”
“This is important, Nate. This is the most important thing ever and I need you come through for me just this once.” Jason looked so earnest. He looked so sincere. It looked like he could break out into a song or hug him or something.
Nate picked up the burrito and took a nonchalant bite. He finished it and chased it with orange root beer. “I got it. No problem, Jason. I’m your guy.”
Jason smiled. It’s possible he was proud. Our protagonist’s brother might just be that naive. “That’s great. That’s really great.”
Nate shrugged. “Seriously, how hard can it be? Stand up there looking like James Bond, rings in my pocket. I can stand. I stand all the time.”
Jason’s expression became serious again. “There are some things I need you to do.”
“I also do things. I do things at least every other day. I pretty much dominate at thing doing.”
Jason pulled out a piece of stationary from his pocket. The handwriting was precise, feminine, terrifying in its perfection. The bride. “Chrissy made a list.”
Nate nodded. “Of course she did.”